ESR’s new Chief Scientist, Brett Cowan, brings an eclectic range of qualifications to his new position.

They include degrees in engineering, medicine and business, as well as studies in philosophical theology and ancient history.

 He was previously the General Manager of Business at Auckland Uniservices and also holds the position of Associate Professor at Auckland University in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

 He has an honours degree in mechanical engineering as well as a medical degree.  Last year, he gained an MBA from the University of Auckland, graduating at the same ceremony last year with his youngest son, who gained a BCom.  

As a self-described boy from a Rotorua working class family, Brett was the first person in his extended family to get a degree.

 “I was really interested in bio-medical engineering. Of course, that degree exists now, but at the time I had to toss up between engineering and medicine. I chose the former and after graduating, I specialised in aeronautics.

 “I ran the wind tunnel at Auckland University, where I designed wind generation systems, kiwifruit windbreaks and instrumentation for the America’s Cup yachts,” he says.

 He also did aerodynamics modelling for buildings in Auckland and some cities overseas, before turning to medical training.

 “I was overseas travelling and my earlier decision to forgo medicine had been gnawing away at me, so I applied and at 23 was accepted for medical school.”

An expert in medical engineering, Associate Professor Cowan, more recently was the director of the Centre for Advance Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, where he undertook research with MRI to image hearts along with clinical trials of new treatments for old diseases.

 Brett started work at ESR last month, and come to his new role after an extended overseas trip, which included a long-held goal to visit Chernobyl, where he toured the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.

 Brett has about 100 publications in clinical trials, medical imaging, image processing, machine learning and computational modelling and statistics.

 Based at ESR’s Mt Albert Science Centre, Brett, will maintain his links with the university, working up to one day a week there.

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brett cowan screen grab from chernobyl video

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Gael Woods